Weeding

Last week we weeded all the SRI plots for the first time. Traditionally, farmers here do not weed their rice fields because keeping a layer of standing water in the field can help suppress some weeds, except aquatic species.  Since SRI plots are not flooded and there is plenty of space between the rice plants, weeds are able to establish and have much access to sunlight. These plots are soon populated by weeds.

Apparently, we have got a lot of weeds in the SRI plots:

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While in the traditional plots, weeds have not come out yet:

 

 

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One thing to notice is that the traditional plots were planted 2 weeks later than the SRI plots. This means that the soil in the SRI plots has not been disturbed for longer time than in the traditional plots, which favored weed seeds germination and growth as well.

To minimizing manual labor and herbicide input, many SRI farmers around the world use mechanical weeders to keep the weeds down. These are mostly simple equipments that are invented by innovating farmers and are easy to use and maintain. Here is a manual of some popular weeder models. We have bought a cono weeder from the Taiwanese and then tried it in our SRI plots last week.

Details of a cono weeder:

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How it works:

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other than rice

Although my major task in managing the SRI experiment, I also participated in many other activities of the iF Foundation.

Making compost: we collected corn stalks, rice straws, and bean hays from farmers who are the foundation’s beneficiaries, mixing them with chicken manure from our chicken coop.  

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Calculating the ratio and amount of each portion. 

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Weighing

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Mixing materials

 

Planting corn: some people digging holes and the others sowing seeds. The holes are not necessarily lined up. We planted 3 seeds in each hole. 

 

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Maintaining weather stations and collecting data: the foundation set up 3 HOBO weather stations in village of Dubre, Coronel, and Grison-garte to collect weather data. Once we have enough data, we might be able to understand the weather pattern and better planning planting schedules.

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Cleaning the sensors

 

The school breakfast program (I’m not involved in this): the foundation prepares and gives free egg sandwiches to kids in 6 nearby schools. The eggs come from chickens raised by the foundation. 

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Bread. A group of chef and food preparing work is hired to make the sandwiches early in the morning.

 

Grafting fruit trees: the foundation bought grafts of good varieties and grafted them. The project includes avocado, mango, and citrus. The young trees will then be distributed to farmers. I have helped grafting avocado last time, using top grafting. This time we grafted mangoes with side grafting, because mango saplings are not woody enough. 

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After grafting on the side, the entire grafted part was wrapped to avoid rain water getting into the cut. The wrap would be taken off after 10-15 days.

 

Collecting bagas compost from Kleren work-shops: bagas is sugarcane leftover after the juice being squeezed out for making an spirit called Kleren. The workshops usually just pile them up and burn them afterward. Some piles can sit there for months, and the bagas at the bottom starts to decompose. We collect these half-decomposed bagas for our compost piles at no cost. 

 

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Digging out the bottom part. They are already in a loose, black, and moist condition. This pile has been sit for almost 1 year. 

 

Peanut trials: the foundation starts a peanut project this spring, and the agronomist is leading an experiment on how compost and planting method can affect peanut yield. There are treatments of different amounts and kinds of compost, and raised beds/flat surface.

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Building raised beds

 

Inoculating mushroom: Bryan Sobel from MFK cooperates with the foundation to experiment artificially raise “djondjon nwa”, a black mushroom which is a high-value food in Haiti. It has unique pleasant aroma and is usually used for making delicious rice pilaf. All the mushroom sold in Haiti is foraged in the wild. We hope to be able to artificially raise it. Image

“djondjon nwa”

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Building raised beds

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Mulch the beds with bagas. We blend the mushroom with water and then dress the solution on the beds. 

 

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Cover with soil

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Water the beds to provide moist

 

More transplanting

We finished transplanting almost all the plots by last Wednesday. It took 11 people 5 hours on April 8 and 9 people 4 hours on April 9. We coded all the plots and the layout is now like this:

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The numbers correspond to the 7 different rice varieties we planted. 1~3 are varieties known and grown by the local farmers: Leonard, Schella (a low-yield but high-market value Haitian variety), and TCS10 (a high-yield variety developed by Taiwan). 4~6 are Madagascar varieties that the iF Foundation purchased from USAID: X360, X265, FOFIFA160. 7 is a Philippine variety the foundation have, but the staff do not know which exact variety it is. We decided to conduct some trials for it, but independent from the others, as shown in the picture. These 4 “Philippine” plots are each 6m x 21m in size. The plot that was supposed to be “3-Tra-B” (traditional TCS10 plot B) has a big mound taking over about 2/3 of the area. It was too difficult for people to remove it, so we did not plant in that plot. However, most farmers in the village are planting TCS10 this year, so we plan to collect yield data in some of their fields as another comparison in addition to Plot 3-Tra-A. As mentioned earlier, we have sowed extra seeds in the nursery for a couple of times to make up the loss. Most seedlings upon transplanting were at the age of 25~28 days. However, the last sowing was about 2 weeks later than the first, and seedlings developing from the latest nursery were not old enough yet to be transplanted into the traditional plots. The “Philippine” was planted at the last sowing and the seedlings were 11 days old on Wednesday, so we also transplanted its 2 SRI plots. By Wednesday afternoon, all the plots were filled except Plot 1-Tra-B, 7-Tra-A, 7Tra-B, which will be transplanted later when the seedlings for these plots are old enough.

Photos:

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(Transplanting traditional rice)

We hired some local farmers to help transplanting. They said that they planted 4-6 plants per hill in their own field. Since we do not have tons of seedlings available, we requested to plant 3-4 plants per hill, so we did not run out of seedlings.

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(Seedlings of “Philippine” variety, 11 days old)

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(Transplanting SRI rice)

Transplanting SRI plot of the “Philippine” variety. The Groundswell International Haiti has shown great interest in out SRI project, and an agronomist from the organization joined us learning and helping transplanting (the young man wearing orange-white-strip shirt in the photo).

After transplanting, we checked all the plots and found out that we seemed to have insect problems.

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Many seedlings have such strips on leaves, and I suspected that the scars are caused by the insects shown below:

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Almost every plant have 1-5 such insects sitting on the leaves, and we are trying to identify them.

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Some seedlings have brownish spot on leaves, which looks like rice blast, but we are not sure.

And the weeds have come out. We scheduled to weed by next week. We have got 8 weeders of different types and will test how they suit the local condition.

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Fertilization can be tricky

Almost all the seedlings survived so far , many of them starting developing the third leaf. We noticed that in some rows of a couple of plots, there were 2-5 seedlings planted together. We separated every individual seedlings when uprooting them from the nursery, so it was definitely not due to difficulty of taking them apart. Our transplanting team was a mix of iF Foundation staff and hired local farmers. It is possible that the farmers did not completely follow the “single seedling” transplanting technique because they might not understand SRI concepts. We went through all the plots to thin the seedlings and replace a few weak ones.

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(3 seedlings planted at the same hill, 2 of which were removed later.)

I was planning to incorporate compost during land preparation, but after learning how people prepare the land, I figured out that it might not be a good idea. The land preparation includes overturning soil, flooding, puddling, and leveling. The soil is 30-40 cm deep. There would be a big chance that the compost would be washed away or stirred deep down that the young roots could not reach. We were to apply compost around March 28th, right after transplanting. Yet we got heavy rain over the nights of March 26 and 27. The plots were a bit flooded. We spent much time opening more drainages for the plots on the 28th. We left the field to dry over the weekend.

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(Draining the plot)

We came back to the field on Tuesday, April 1, to check the soil moisture condition. It was kind of trick. The soil seemed to be very dry as there were cracks on the surface. I stuck my finger into the soil, and it was actually moist inside. The water table did not fully drop back. The surface was kind of firm, like a soft crust, and it was not really difficult walking on it. The soil was diagnosed as a heavy clay vertisol by USDA scientists in an earlier soil survey. The surface cracks easily once it starts drying. I think it is actually beneficial for the SRI plots to have this cracks because the openings allow soil aeration and create a channel for nutrient absorption. Otherwise the compacted surface will block out oxygen and slows down the diffusion of additional soil nutrients from compost into the soil.

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(Soil cracks when it starts to dry)

The majority of the seedlings looked yellowish, and they really need some nutrient. We decided to slightly water the plots to soften the surface so that it would be easier for nutrients to get into the soil. We were planning water them Wednesday morning, but there was a thunderstorm on Tuesday night. We were worried about flooding, but we found that the water drained well. All the plots were moist but not submerged. Considering the fact that it has been 10 days after transplanting, and compost releases nutrients slowly, we agreed on putting some nitrogen fertilizer for them to facilitate establishment. On Wednesday afternoon we spread 2.5 kg nitrogen fertilizer (40:0:0
) to the SRI plots, about 3.5 g per square meter, as a bit “fast food” for them. We planned to apply compost soon afterward as a continuous nutrient supply. A major challenge for soil fertility management here is that there is no weather forecast service in this area, probably even no such thing countrywide. We have no idea when there will be a precipitation, how much it will probably rain, how much area it will cover, and how long it might last, etc. We completely rely on observation of cloud and assumption. A medium to heavy rain can wash away any kind of soil nutrient amendment, which is our biggest concern. We have been postpone applying compost because there have been nimbus every afternoon.This is another reason why we drizzled just a little bit N fertilizer–compost and extra chemical fertilizer will be gone when water draining out from the plots. We hoped that the chemical can dissolve and be taken up fast enough before the field hit by another heavy rain. Fortunately there was not much rain that night.

This morning we eventually applied compost to all the SRI plots. It did not rain last night and the sky is clear today. All the plots were moist, and soil has been softened.  We used vermicompost produced at the iF Foundation, and spread 10 kg on soil surface in each plot.

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(SRI plot fertilized with vermicompost)

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(seedling at 3-leaf stage)